Tampere University of Technology

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Abstracting Application Development for Resource Constrained Wireless Sensor Networks

Research output: Book/ReportDoctoral thesisCollection of Articles


Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationTampere
PublisherTampere University of Technology
Number of pages104
ISBN (Electronic)978-952-15-3567-3
ISBN (Print)978-952-15-3542-0
Publication statusPublished - 4 Sep 2015
Publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)

Publication series

NameTampere University of Technology. Publication
PublisherTampere University of Technology
ISSN (Print)1459-2045


Ubiquitous computing is a concept whereby computing is distributed across smart objects surrounding users, creating ambient intelligence. Ubiquitous applications use technologies such as the Internet, sensors, actuators, embedded computers, wireless communication, and new user interfaces. The Internet-of-Things (IoT) is one of the key concepts in the realization of ubiquitous computing, whereby smart objects communicate with each other and the Internet. Further, Wireless Sensor Networks (WSNs) are a sub-group of IoT technologies that consist of geographically distributed devices or nodes, capable of sensing and actuating the environment.

WSNs typically contain tens to thousands of nodes that organize and operate autonomously to perform application-dependent sensing and sensor data processing tasks. The projected applications require nodes to be small in physical size and low-cost, and have a long lifetime with limited energy resources, while performing complex computing and communications tasks. As a result, WSNs are complex distributed systems that are constrained by communications, computing and energy resources. WSN functionality is dynamic according to the environment and application requirements. Dynamic multitasking, task distribution, task injection, and software updates are required in field experiments for possibly thousands of nodes functioning in harsh environments.

The development of WSN application software requires the abstraction of computing, communication, data access, and heterogeneous sensor data sources to reduce the complexities. Abstractions enable the faster development of new applications with a better reuse of existing software, as applications are composed of high-level tasks that use the services provided by the devices to execute the application logic.

The main research question of this thesis is: What abstractions are needed for application development for resource constrained WSNs? This thesis models WSN abstractions with three levels that build on top of each other: 1) node abstraction, 2) network abstraction, and 3) infrastructure abstraction. The node abstraction hides the details in the use of the sensing, communication, and processing hardware. The network abstraction specifies methods of discovering and accessing services, and distributing processing in the network. The infrastructure abstraction unifies different sensing technologies and infrastructure computing platforms.

As a contribution, this thesis presents the abstraction model with a review of each abstraction level. Several designs for each of the levels are tested and verified with proofs of concept and analyses of field experiments. The resulting designs consist of an operating system kernel, a software update method, a data unification interface, and all abstraction levels combining abstraction called an embedded cloud.

The presented operating system kernel has a scalable overhead and provides a programming approach similar to a desktop computer operating system with threads and processes. An over-the-air update method combines low overhead and robust software updating with application task dissemination. The data unification interface homogenizes the access to the data of heterogeneous sensor networks. A unification model is used for various use cases by mapping everything as measurements. The embedded cloud allows resource constrained WSNs to share services and data, and expand resources with other technologies. The embedded cloud allows the distributed processing of applications according to the available services. The applications are implemented as processes using a hardware independent description language that can be executed on resource constrained WSNs. The lessons of practical field experimenting are analyzed to study the importance of the abstractions. Software complexities encountered in the field experiments highlight the need for suitable abstractions.

The results of this thesis are tested using proof of concept implementations on real WSN hardware which is constrained by computing power in the order of a few MIPS, memory sizes of a few kilobytes, and small sized batteries. The results will remain usable in the future, as the vast amount, tight integration, and low-cost of future IoT devices require the combination of complex computation with resource constrained platforms.

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